20 Best Old-School Educational Video Games

When you think about video games, you don’t usually think about them being educational. However, from puzzle games that can be played to help you improve your mind power, to games that overtly teach you math and develop reading skills, video games can actually aid educational efforts. While you probably won’t get a college scholarship due to your efforts at gaming, you can improve your knowledge.

But the really cool games, at least for us old school gamers, were found from the days 15- 20 years ago. Some of the classics were educational and fun. And, since video games were a novelty, we’d play just to play. Today’s kids know exactly what you’re trying to pull when you plop a Leap Frog in front of them. And some of them won’t stand for that sort of educational value. If you are interested in a little trip down memory lane, you can check out the following 20 old-school educational video games:

Puzzle Games

Old school puzzle games challenged your creativity, and your thinking skills. Puzzle games have always been a great way to give your brain a good work out. These games could help you boost your brain power, preparing your for weightier educational challenges.

  1. Solomon’s Key: This puzzle game is meant to keep you thinking. And possibly frustrated. There are 15 secret levels; if you don’t unlock them all, you don’t actually “beat” the game. But there’s no way to know until you are done. There are so many impossible challenges to overcome (the main character is almost always near death, enemies spawn endlessly). Even if this wasn’t such a brain buster, it would still provide a solid education in failure — and bitter disappointment.
  2. Tetris: Still one of the best puzzle games ever. Figure out how to stack oddly shaped items so that you make rows. You can change their shapes — within boundaries. A great brain work out.
  3. Minesweeper: I’m going to be honest. I spent hours playing Minesweeper. Trying to figure out where all the bombs were was a puzzle that could keep me occupied indefinitely. It was all about deduction, and elimination.
  4. Bomberman: This classic, originally released in Japan, is a classic maze-based puzzle video game. Use strategy to work your way to the surface. Plenty of challenges. This game is often considered one of the first multiplayer games.
  5. The Fool’s Errand: Your job is to use a cryptic treasure map and solve visual puzzles in order to beat the game. It’s a great mental workout, providing a number of different challenges.
  6. Gertrude’s Secrets: Move into different rooms, solving puzzles. There are a variety of different types of puzzles. Most of them are reasonably simple. There are some that take creativity and guessing, though. A great way to spend an afternoon.
  7. Tink Tonk: A great puzzle game from the company Spout. Cool characters, and plenty of learning activities. This game is hard to find, but if you can download it, it’s a great way to refresh your mind.

Math & Science

If you wanted to practice math facts, or learn a little science, you could use these games to build a solid conceptual foundation. These games were perfect for budding geeks, who could take the concepts learned and build better computers — and video games.

  1. Math Blaster: Possibly one of the most popular math games ever, Math Blaster presents math problems, and you have to solve them in order to advance. A space game that encourages students to think quickly, learning math facts.
  2. M.U.L.E.: Learn a little more about the “dismal science” — economics — with help from this old-school video game. Your job is to colonize a planet and make it economically viable. Create a commodity, and then sell it. Find out about labor, money, and the market system.
  3. Lunar Lander: Learn about physics concepts like thrust as you try to land on the moon. Landing spots become more difficult as you consider gravity (considerably less of it on the moon), and how to pilot an unwieldy lunar landing module.
  4. Number Munchers: Numbers are delicious! And fun! Learn different math concepts, and practice your math skills with help from this game. You have to become increasingly fast as solving your math problems, since there are Troggles trying to mess you up.
  5. OutNumbered!: This game is from the Super Solvers franchise. Your job is to solve math problems in order to save a TV station from mischief. It also requires that you guess where the bad guy is at the end. A fun game that includes a number of elements.
  6. Astro-Grover: Perfect for kids who need to learn counting and basic math. Join the fuzzy monster on an exploration of space — and arithmetic

Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

From music to reading to history, these great games provide a way to brush up on facts, and train the brain. Learn fascinating tidbits of information while playing. And use that information in ways that you might never need in real life.

  1. Loom: Learn a little bit about music from this game. You need to remember musical “spells”, which are comprised of notes on a musical scale. As you progress, more notes are added. Learn about reading music, and maybe even making your own.
  2. Oregon Trail: I actually first played this game in school. I lived along the Oregon Trail, and the game was considered a great lesson in history. Follow the route of pioneers. Figure out how much food to get. Learn about historical events. And try not to die.
  3. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?: A perfect game for learning geography. Solve clues and track down Carmen Sandiego — all around the world. Spin offs include a time travel game to help teach history.
  4. Mario’s Time Machine: Learn more about history with help from Mario, one of the most recognizable video games in history. The game, though, was discontinued.
  5. Word Munchers: Practice reading, and learning more about grammar. A great way to learn parts of speech. Perhaps if more kids played Word Munchers, they wouldn’t think LOL and UR are actual words.
  6. Reader Rabbit: This franchise has been around for a while. A fun way to help kids learn to read by playing games.
  7. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing: Playful, game based drills to help you learn typing. The sibling rivalry alone — who can type the fastest? — made it a game at my house. And a fiercely competitive one at that. Updated version available now to teach you to e-mail faster.
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